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Vehicle equipped for disabled daughter stolen, recovered

Thieves apprehended in Vancouver after police chase

By Andrew Mitchell

A pair of Lower Mainland thieves ignored the disabled signs on a local man’s truck this past Sunday evening, looking only to upgrade the Neon they had stolen earlier in the day to carry some of the other items they had stolen.

According to Adam Protter, thieves stole his truck at approximately 8:15 p.m., just 10 minutes after a friend of his son’s dropped by their Spruce Grove home to pick him up to go tobogganing.

He became aware of the theft shortly afterwards, and immediately sent out e-mails asking people to be on the lookout for the vehicle.

More important than being the family’s transportation, the truck also carried his daughter Morgan’s wheelchair ramp and Easy-On Vest — a specially designed car harness that took a year and a half to get Transport Canada approval and funding for, and another four months to be custom made by a company in Florida. Without it he had no way to bring his daughter to school or the village, and it would take another four months to get a replacement.

That night he received a call from the police in Port Moody. The good news was the vest was still inside the vehicle; the bad news was that the truck was damaged in a police chase.

According to Protter, the thieves stole various items during a series of break and enters in Whistler, and stole a Dodge Neon to get around town. They evidently set their sites on Protter’s truck, parked the Neon in Spruce Grove Park — engine running and lights still on — and proceeded to steal the truck. They pried open the door with a crowbar, and hotwired the vehicle.

Late that night the Whistler thieves met with some other thieves and a vehicle they had stolen in a parking garage in Port Moody to offload the stolen property, when someone called the police on them. The police converged on the scene, blocking off the second vehicle, while Protter’s thieves jumped back into the truck and tried to escape. They drove over curbs and embankments before getting stuck on one embankment and attempting to flee on foot. They were caught by the police and spent the night in jail.

Protter is glad to have the truck back, with the ramp and vest, although it is still being repaired in the city. There was some light damage to the outside, but Protter is concerned that the thieves drove all the way to the city in four-wheel drive and may have damaged the transfer case. As a result he is paying for an inspection out of his own pocket to find any damage before he settles with ICBC.

There was no way the thieves couldn’t have known they were stealing a handicap-equipped vehicle Protter says.

“There was a handicap sign on the rearview mirror, and stickers and a magnet on the back, so it was pretty obvious,” said Protter. “These guys just didn’t care. They needed a truck, and took one.”

Recovering the vest was a huge relief for Protter. It’s usually in the family’s van, but that vehicle was in the shop at the time so he had the vest and ramp in his own truck.

“If we lost the harness we would have been effed, to put it politely,” said Protter. “If it was gone she wasn’t going to be able to go to school unless we spent about $60 every day on taxis.”

Morgan has a developmental disability, and cannot walk, talk or feed herself, although she can communicate a little with communication devices. She also needs around the clock care, which is why the Protters are unable to send her to Spring Creek elementary by school bus — even one equipped for wheelchairs. As a result her parents have to drive her to school each day.

Another reason why the Protters were grateful to get their vehicle back is the fact that they are currently applying to get funding for a wheelchair van. If they had had to buy a new vehicle before their request is reviewed they would have had their application thrown out.